(NOTE: If you haven’t yet heard about the contest I’m running through September 24th, go here to see the entry details, as well as the 50+ different prizes, and please think about entering. After all, there’s no limit on number of entries and there are many ways to enter. If you’ve already entered, remember that leaving a comment about this interview earns you yet another entry!)
Besides being a terrific editor, Annette Lyon is an award-winning author and grammarian extraordinaire. After winning Utah’s Best of State award for fiction and being a Whitney finalist in 2007 for SPIRES OF STONE, Annette won the Whitney in 2010 for BAND OF SISTERS. Her book, PAIGE, came out recently as the third volume in the Newport Ladies Book Club series.
Me: I want to know what you wrote on your mother’s typewriter when you were in second grade and if you still have it. Also, was your mother a writer? Is that why she had a typewriter?
Annette: My first attempts at writing were inspired by Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle, so I typed up things like Mean Marvin the Mouse (second grade) and Raymond’s Runaways (third grade). The latter was about a group of mistreated hamsters trying to escape their horrid owner. Alas, I don’t have either anymore.
Mom has always been an avid scholar of the scriptures, and she used the typewriter to record her studies. (Me: A woman after my own heart!) She had a bookshelf beside the desk, filled with three-ring binders, all with scripture stuff inside. I remember when she upgraded to a fancy typewriter that beeped if you spelled something wrong and even had a mini computer memory so you could type faster than the keys moved. I loved writing a sentence fast then sitting back to watch the keys finish after I did. That was seriously cool.
Me: In what way is writing therapeutic for you? And in what way is it stressful?
Annette: Writing has always been a dream and passion of mine, but I didn’t realize how therapeutic it is to me until, during my years with small children at home (and before I got published), I decided I was just too busy to write. I took two months off, and my life pretty much fell apart. Then I took about 20 minutes 2 days in a row to write–less than an episode of “Sesame Street” all together–and the entire cyclone calmed right down. That’s when I realized that I couldn’t wait until my children were grown to write–I had to do it while they were young for their sakes. I’m a more balanced mother and just more me when I’m writing.
The stressful parts come in largely on the business end and in trying to keep it all in balance with family. Among the stresses: rejection (still get those), deadlines (as happy as you are to get a book out, the deadlines can be killer), the constant treadmill of promotion, worry over reviews, and so on. (Me: I hear you there!) My current stress (although it’s a blessing too) is that I do so much freelance editing that I have a hard time finding a chance to work on my own stuff.
A different stress was when I went through two or three years of a personal writer identity crisis, which I never expected to. It was a troubling period–very hard and very dark; I felt I’d lost a part of myself. But I kept trying to walk through it, and eventually, I came out. Or, I think I’m out. (Me: You’re out, Annette! Come on, you won the Whitney! How can you doubt yourself?) The whole writer psyche is a funky thing sometimes.
Me: Tell me about your children. Have you put any of them, or your husband, into your fiction, and, if so, did it bother them?
Annette: I have four children: a boy followed by three girls. They’re at such fun ages right now–becoming their own people who love to talk and discuss ideas, who have their own dreams and hopes and fears. They’re also starting to understand what Mom does. (NOT just type a lot, but write actual books with stories!) It helps when they have friends who’ve read my books–it’s as if that’s when Mom’s books are suddenly real. (Me: I hear you there!)
I’ve never put any of my children–or my husband–into a book, maybe because my characters usually show up almost fully formed. The one time I attempted to loosely base a character on someone real (not a family member), the character came up with her own identity. She ended up hardly resembling the original model anyway.
Me: If you had to give up Facebook or Twitter, which would it be and why?
Annette: I love both, but if I had to give one up, it would be Twitter. Facebook is how I stay connected with a lot of people I care about who aren’t on Twitter and probably never will be. At times, Twitter is more fun–the banter, the hash tags, the news, the industry links–but it’s somewhat more about my professional side. Facebook is where I can see what my nieces and nephews are doing, check in with aunts and uncles, drop notes about things my kids say, and keep in touch with old friends.
Me: How is the sequel to your award-winning novel, BAND OF SISTERS, coming along? And are you still keeping it in a woman’s point of view or has one of the returning husbands become your main character?
Annette: The sequel will be on shelves in January. The revisions are done, and I should be getting edits back any day now. It’ll be called BAND OF SISTERS: COMING HOME. I decided to keep the same format I used in the first book, which went between the five different wives’ points of view, because each of them has different challenges to face when the soldiers come home. It worked in the first one, and I hope it works in the sequel!
(I’m sure it will. Loved the first one.)
Me: Having just released PAIGE in the Newport Ladies Book Club series (with fellow authors Julie Wright, Josi Kilpack, and Heather Moore), what’s next for you in that series?
Annette: We’re in the process of getting the next set of Newport Ladies books finished up and turned in. These ones will focus on the next four months after the first set ends, and will feature the other four women in the club, who were mostly cameos in the first set: Shannon, Tori, Ruby, and Ilana (which I’m writing). If all goes well, we should see the first one of those come out in the spring.
Me: Tell me what you were like as a teenager at Timpview High, and which teacher there had the most impact on you. (I’d love a picture, but I’ll understand if you refuse.)
(Fortunately, she didn’t . . . Here’s one from her graduation. I’m sure you’ll recognize her in the middle.)
Annette: The first part of high school, I was really shy and introverted. Then I made some friends who essentially ripped my shell open, something I’m eternally grateful for. I was the straight-laced kid, which means I was probably boring. I never skipped class. I got good grades. The time I stayed out the latest past curfew was with permission, and it was spent watching a video of Hamlet. (SO rebellious!) I was part of the choir, drill team, literary journal staff, Russian club, and honors society. Because even then I was a nerd. (Me: All the best people were.)
I had a fantastic high-school education; several teachers had a profound effect on me. The one who made the biggest impact is easy: Miss Drummond, who I had for English for both my sophomore and senior years. She’s the person who first made grammar and punctuation accessible. She explained it so the rules made sense. She taught me how to write; I had no idea how well she’d prepared me for writing in college until I got there and realized I was way ahead of my peers. On top of all that, she had a great way of looking at literature. The only boring days in her class were when she was forced to have this awful student teacher.
(Doesn’t everyone have an awful student teacher experience?)
Me: I’ve got to know about your office or writing space. Please describe the best and worst parts about it (and provide a picture). Also, any secret hiding places there for chocolate?
Best parts: It’s a devoted spot for my work, and it has a DOOR. Not that either prevents interruption, but it’s a nice thought. I love the built-in shelves my husband made, and the wood floor (okay, fake wood, but it’s so pretty!). I have an extra chair that my kids use all the time. They come in to hang out, talk about their day, or unload whatever is on their minds. No way will I take that chair out.
The worst part is that my office tends to be the kids’ dumping ground. It’s perpetually cluttered with school notes, dishes, homework, toys, bobby pins (can you tell I have teenage girls?), and even clothing they’ve dropped along the way. (Me: Clutter? I don’t see any clutter in this picture. She must have cleaned up.) But I guess that means they’re comfortable there and know they can interrupt Mom whenever they need to. One day, I’ll probably miss their messes.
(Here’s a look at those built-in shelves.)
I used to hide chocolate in the bottom left cupboard of my desk. (Gulp! How weird. I hide mine in the bottom left drawer. Is chocolate a leftist snack?) The kids know me so well that they eventually found it. I still keep treats there sometimes, but I’m under no delusion that it’s hidden. (Alas.) Lately, it’s been healthier snacks.
Me: Finally, when and why did you help found The Utah Chocolate Show, and where in the world can you get the BEST chocolate, in your opinion?
Annette: The Utah Chocolate Show was my older sister Mel’s idea. She used to both cater and produce events, but she always enjoyed the production end more than the catering side. Back in 2003 when she was moving up to Utah from Arizona, she pondered what would be the most enjoyable event to produce. By the time she reached Provo, she’d come up with an expo show about all things chocolate. She gathered me and our younger sister, Michelle, around our parents’ kitchen counter and told us the idea. We pulled off the first show the fall of 2004.
(Okay. I’ve finally found a reason to move to Utah.)
At first, my role was supposed to just be the writer–web copy, press releases, and the like. But producing a show of that size was so much bigger than any of us had anticipated–shows are usually created by corporations, not three sisters. Next thing I knew, I was assistant director, working with sales and marketing, making executive decisions, handling contracts, going to a TV station to discuss commercials and air time and so much more. I even did my first TV spots.
After a few years of the show, I was so busy that I knew something in my life had to go. It couldn’t be my family, and it couldn’t be my writing. So I stepped back from the show, and by then others were around to fill in. A year or two later, my sister sold the show to another company, and they promptly dropped the ball. As a result, the show doesn’t exist anymore, which is really sad. (There goes my reason to move to Utah. Oh, well.) It was a fun experience that I learned a ton from.
One fun thing I learned is that Amano is the best chocolate company based in Utah, and one of the few anywhere (the only one west of the Mississippi) that makes chocolate directly from the cacao bean themselves. (Most small companies take chocolate made by another company and use that for their own products.) Amano has won a ton of big-time chocolate awards. Theirs isn’t chocolate you inhale and eat tons of; a savored bite or two is plenty.
But my all-time favorite is Finnish chocolate, specifically the Fazer Blue, which (of course) has a blue wrapper. MMMMmmmmm.